Not enough nurses to meet patient needs safely

A new report by the Royal College of Nursing warns that eight in 10 (83%) nurses contend there weren’t enough nursing staff to meet all patient needs safely and effectively on their last shift.

Released yesterday [6 June], just a quarter (25%) of shifts had the planned number of registered nurses. 

Less than one in five (18%) said they had enough time to provide the level of care they’d like. 

The RCN is calling on governments across the UK to take accountability for nursing workforce planning and supply in law, and immediately publish independently verifiable assessments of population health needs. These should directly inform what’s invested into the nursing workforce, the RCN said.

RCN general secretary & CEO Pat Cullen said: “These results speak for themselves. The risk to patients, to services and to health and care staff is simply unacceptable. The complacency from governments across the UK is unacceptable.

“Our members are nursing under unsustainable pressure, and governments are risking lives by failing to take urgent action. Together, we’re determined to use our position as the leading voice of nursing to be the greatest champion of high-quality patient care.”

At the RCN Congress in Glasgow, taking place this week, Cullen has issued a stark warning: “Nursing staff are being driven out by the current way of working – the shortage of staff and too often the poor culture. To those from government listening to my words – we've had enough. The patients and those we care for have had enough.

"We're tired, fed up, demoralised, and some of us are leaving the profession because we've lost hope. Do something about it – we're not going away.”

This latest report marked the third time the RCN had conducted its “last shift survey”, with the results this year, compared to 2017 and 2020, revealing the impact of Covid-19 on the morale of nursing staff.

Nearly six in 10 (59%) said they felt upset or sad that they couldn’t provide the level of care they wanted, while over half (51%) said they felt demoralised on their last shift.

Worryingly, one in five (21%) said they felt unable to raise concerns. 

Reacting to this report, Shazia Ejaz, campaigns director at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), said: “The figures in the RCN’s new report are a stark reminder of just how the bad the shortages are, with more than four in five nurses saying staffing levels are not enough to meet patients’ needs. 

“This fundamental issue is causing more difficult working conditions and burnout, compounding the problem. And the current procurement rules for agency staff, who are vital for covering shifts and keeping the health service running, are so restrictive that NHS Trusts are forced to go outside the usual frameworks – meaning they pay far above the usual rate for the staff they desperately need, and avoid the robust compliance and standards rules, risking patient safety.”

Ejaz went on to say: “It is time for the government to take action to solve the shortages. This includes improved working conditions for all staff and a fundamental review of the NHS workforce strategy, including the agency procurement frameworks. 

“This should also recognise the value of agency staff to the sector and enshrine equal treatment for them, including an equal pay rise to substantive staff. This will help to create a system that is fair, sustainable and protects taxpayers’ money and prioritises patient care and safety.”

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